US judge blocks Indiana 2nd trimester abortion procedure ban

June 28, 2019 - 6:11 pm

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A federal judge blocked an Indiana law that would ban a second-trimester abortion procedure on Friday, just days before the law was set to come into force.

The order putting the Indiana law on hold was released hours after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to revive a similar law in Alabama that sought to ban dilation and evacuation abortions.

The law passed by Indiana's Republican-dominated Legislature this spring calls the procedure "dismemberment abortion." It was set to become effective on July 1.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana sued on behalf of two doctors who perform dilation and evacuation abortions. Under the law, a doctor who performs the procedure could face a felony charge, punishable by up to six years in prison.

Indiana's attorneys maintained the state had a valid role in limiting types of abortion procedures, citing a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld a federal law banning the method.

ACLU attorneys argued that the ban would put a "substantial and unwarranted burden on women's ability to obtain second-trimester, pre-viability abortions."

In granting the preliminary injunction that blocked the law, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker wrote that it "prohibits physicians from utilizing the most common, safest, often most cost effective, and best understood method of second trimester abortion, requiring them instead to resort to alternatives that are medically riskier, more costly, less reliable, and in some instances simply unavailable, while accomplishing little more than expressing hostility towards the constitutionally fundamental right of women to control their own reproductive lives."

Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said in a statement he expected to appeal the ruling.

"I continue to believe that Indiana has a compelling interest in protecting the value and dignity of fetal life by banning a particularly brutal and inhumane procedure," Hill said.

The U.S. Supreme Court in May rejected Indiana's appeal of a lower court ruling that blocked the state's ban on abortion based on gender, race or disability. The court, however, upheld a portion of the 2016 law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence requiring burial or cremation of fetal remains after an abortion.

Four other anti-abortion laws adopted in Indiana since 2013 have been blocked by federal courts, according to the ACLU.

Chris Charbonneau, the CEO at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, said the latest Indiana law wrongly waded into the details of medical decisions that should be left to doctors.

"I think the Legislature has not, until recently, been serious about passing something that will be upheld," Charbonneau said. "I think they're passing these things as red meat to the right-wing base to make it look like they are actually doing something."

The decision from Barker, who was nominated as a judge by President Ronald Reagan, comes just weeks after she allowed an abortion clinic to open in South Bend. The Indiana State Department of Health had denied the operator a clinic license, saying it had not provided requested safety documentation.

During a hearing this month, Barker questioned why the state would force women seeking a second-trimester abortion to undergo "highly risky" alternative procedures, such as prematurely inducing labor or injecting fatal drugs into the fetus.

Federal courts have blocked similar laws in several states, including Kentucky and Ohio this spring, but Indiana abortion opponents were hopeful an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court could eventually uphold such bans.

The Indiana measure signed by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb would make it illegal for doctors to use medical instruments such as clamps, forceps and scissors to remove a fetus from the womb except to save the pregnant woman's life or prevent serious health risk.

Indiana Solicitor General Thomas Fisher said legislators wanted the ban "because they think the procedure is unethical."

The anti-abortion group Indiana Right to Life urged an appeal of Barker's ruling.

"It's disgusting that the abortion industry can simply overturn a law they dislike by filing a lawsuit," said Mike Fichter, the group's president and CEO. "Dismemberment abortions are painful and barbaric. No baby deserves this horrific death sentence."

Indiana lawmakers didn't go as far as those in Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio, where bills were enacted barring abortion once there's a detectable fetal heartbeat, as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. Missouri's governor signed a bill approving an eight-week ban on abortion, with exceptions only for medical emergencies. Alabama outlawed virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest. Those bans haven't taken effect, and all are expected to face legal challenges.

The dilation and evacuation procedure accounted for 27, or 0.35 percent, of the 7,778 abortions performed in Indiana during 2017, according to an Indiana State Department of Health report.